February 16, 2017 - by George Ross, Jean-Monnet Chair ad personam, Université de Montréal
Brexit began with UK PM David Cameron’s flawed strategy to keep Eurosceptics under control by calling the June, 2016 national referendum whose results cost Cameron his job. What soon followed showed, in Jeremy Kinsman’s words, that the Brexiters were « …the dog that caught the bus : they hadn’t thought what to do next. » The absence of plans was evident in new PM Teresa May’s puzzling announcement that « Brexit means Brexit. »
There followed months of confusion. May appointed three leading Brexiters (including Boris Johnson, who had proposed that the UK could « …have its cake and eat it too») to top Brexit jobs, in part to keep them inside the government tent, but without knowing what they were to do. The new situation also disorganized the British civil service. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty had to be invoked to negotiate « leaving », but excepting those ready to jump over the Brexit cliff without knowing where they would land, leaving remained to be defined. Among the options were staying in the EU single market without a voice in EU affairs, staying in the EU customs union but jettisoning EU laws, regulations, and practices, « cherry picking » desirable parts of the EU (protecting the City of London and EU research and development, among others), or cutting EU ties and « going global. » Some even thought that people would return to their senses and overrule the referendum results.